You can use the Internet to make phone calls from your computer if you have appropriate hardware and software. This is even more convenient with a laptop computer, which provides some of the portability of cell phones whenever you have access to a wireless Internet connection.
Types of Calling Services
There are two kinds of calling services available: computer-to-computer calls and computer-to-phone calls. With a computer-to-computer call, you enter the service username of the person you are calling, and the calling service will contact that person at the computer where they are logged in. Typically, computer-to-computer calls cannot be forwarded to a landline or cell phone, so the person you are calling will have to be online and logged into the service in order to reach her. Skype is the most popular service for computer-to-computer calls; the software, account and all calls made to other computers are free of charge.
A computer-to-phone call initiates the call from a computer to any phone number; the call is patched over the Internet into the phone network of the person you are calling, and he can receive your call on his regular landline or cell phone. Skype provides a service called SkypeOut, which allows you make inexpensive calls to any phone; the charge by the minute is based on which country you are calling. Google Voice has a similar feature, but once you have initiated the call, you can either use Google’s Gizmo service to take the call on your computer, or you can forward the call on your end to your own cell phone or landline. Google Voice’s fees are competitive with Skype, and as of early 2010, calls made to the United States and Canada are free of charge.
Your laptop may have an internal microphone and speakers, but you should not use these for your Internet phone calls. The internal microphone will act as a speakerphone, picking up sound from your immediate area, so it can only be used in quiet environments. Likewise, if you play sound out of your computer speakers, your caller may hear his own voice played back to him. You can use any headset with your laptop with compatible jacks; commonly used connectors are 3.5 millimeter dual jacks, USB or Bluetooth wireless headsets. If your laptop and cell phone have Bluetooth capability, you can use the same headset with both of them by pairing the headset with both devices.